One morning several months back Hubby announced quite matter-of-factly “when I die, just put my body into a plain pine box and drop me off at the crematorium.” He was reading a price comparison related to burial expenses. As recent retirees, we tend to think once or twice about whether certain expenses are worth the money that could be put to better use doing other things—such as traveling to Europe for instance. We’ve never resolved the old question of whether we’ll go along with Mama’s wish that we would spend eternity side by side with the Grahams in the family burial plot in the cemetery of a churchyard in Florida. Somehow, neither of relish this thought—I about being six-feet under the earth for time immemorial nor he on being the only Hindu buried amongst a multitude of southern Baptists. Now that we are retired, perhaps it IS time to rethink this whole issue of how we should spend eternity.
I’ve tried many times over the years to explain to him how Christians believe that the soul is immortal so that the body should remain intact in case we need it later, when Gabriel blows his horn to summon us all to Heaven after Christ’s Second Coming. He’s responded as many times how the body is nothing a vessel for the soul that will return reincarnated in a new body anyway. Since it won’t be needed any longer we should think nothing of covering it with piles of wood or cow chips, dousing it with fuel and lighting it with a match. So far, all I know for certain is that when one of us dies we’ll either be buried quick enough and deep enough so as not to stink, or reduced to ashes and scattered by the wind for pretty much the same reason. Of course history and the Internet are full of references to burial customs and body disposal. Here are some of the more interesting facts I found in the Death in Burial and Belief website, none of which—may I add—sounds appealing:
In the African Congo, when a person dies, his hut is pulled down on top of him, and survivors move their camp while relatives cry. The dead person is never mentioned again. The Navajos of the Southwest United States, also destroy the house of the dead person, and then relatives burn the body. The Aboriginals of Australia leave dead bodies in trees. The Parsees of Bombay (India) used to leave their dead on top of towers to be eaten by vultures. Also in India, the first-born son of a Hindu must personally light the funeral pyre of his deceased father. It would be a lot easier on the son to lay the dead out on a reef for the sharks to eat as they do in the Solomon Islands. But I don’t think they have reefs in India.
All interesting solutions, but still no answer to my plight. So I decided to do what I do best: lay the issue aside and procrastinate until the answer comes to me either divinely or otherwise. That’s when the solution presented itself to me. In “Assasination Vacation,” a book by Sarah Vowell, who writes on historical themes in such a bizarre way as to make history really interesting to people like me with a sometimes twisted way of looking at things, she introduces me in a brief aside to a story about John Wilkes Booth, to Jeremy Bentham, an eighteenth-century Englishman associated with the University of London. According to Gretchen Worden, who for many years was the Director of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, after Bentham died his body was mummified and left to the University with a stipulation in his will that he attend all the annual meetings. To this day his body is rolled out in a wheelchair every year from the closet he’s stored in, mostly just a skeleton with clothes on it, his face modeled in wax.
All I know about Heaven or Hell that I am sure-fired certain of is whatever we make of our lives while we’re still living. Heaven can be as simple as enjoying coffee on a sun-filtered porch drinking coffee and being serenaded by the birds, and Hell might be having to plan and cook 365 meals a year times 3; it’s all in what you make of it. So, instead of being buried inside a coffin in the earth, where I’m pretty sure there are will be no birds, no sunshine and no coffee, I want my body mummified and arranged sitting in a rocking chair on my front balcony with panoramic views of the Great Salt Lake, the city, and surrounding mountains. I may not be aware of the view or surroundings, but at least I’ll be right in the midst of a little bit of Heaven for as long as eternity lasts. And just in case the Christians turn out to be right and my soul comes looking for my body in which to makes its ascension into Heaven, I’ll be ready. How much will this cost, you say? Well, I believe Heaven is also never having to wonder if you can afford it, and some things are just better left to your survivors to worry about. So hang the expense! Dress me in comfortable clothes, and be sure to model the wax on my face so that it looks as it did when I was 42.